Into the Storm (2014)
Directed by: Steven Quale
Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey
Sometimes simple is good, and what makes Into the Storm work as a disaster movie is precisely its utter simplicity. There are no elaborate storylines to keep track of, not much in the way of cinematic structure, certainly no subtlety whatsoever – there’s just a series of vicious tornados and a group of people running for their life. And in this case, that’s quite enough.
But to be honest, the opening act had me doubting. After a short pre-title sequence where a carload of students meet a terrible fate, we meet the main characters: single dad and high school teacher Gary and his two sons Donnie and Trey, and storm chaser Pete and his crew which includes weather data analyst Allison. These are all the shallowest of movie clichés: stern father, sullen teenage son, obsessed artist, guilt-ridden mother, and there is really not much to say about any of them.
Above all, though, we are introduced to a series of video cameras and camera phones, as Into the Storm is mainly told through footage taken by the characters themselves. This means the opening half-hour contains several instances of characters addressing the camera, and certain plot set-ups being revealed by having people filming other people without their knowledge. Much of this feels staged and is generally unconvincing, and at this point I had serious misgivings about the rest of the movie.
Then the tornadoes arrived, and I forgot all about that.
What plot there is kicks off with the graduation ceremony at Silverton high school where Gary (Richard Armitage) teaches. He has enrolled his oldest son Donnie (Deacon) to shoot the whole thing on video, but Donnie turns the job over to his little brother Trey (Kress) and heads instead to an abandoned old factory to help Kaitlyn (Carey), the girl he’s secretly in love with, to finish her own video project. Meanwhile, storm chaser Pete (Walsh) and his team discover a promising storm system, and head towards Silverton to secure footage for their documentary. As a series of ever more powerful tornadoes ravage the area, Donnie and Kaitlyn get trapped as the factory collapses, and Gary enrolls the help of the storm chasers as he goes to go save them.
So far, so trite. But here’s where the entertainment really starts and the film earns its title. Thanks to handsome visual effects and a soundtrack that someone has spent a lot of loving care on, we do go into the storm. The tornadoes are loud and vicious and a few of them are mean enough to make their counterparts in 90’s tornado classic Twister seem rather polite. The weather violence is increasing steadily, starting off with a twister ripping apart a few rural homes, before moving on to the high school and leveling parts of downtown Silverton. Next, multiple tornadoes strike, throwing trucks and jumbo jets around like confetti. We even get to enjoy a fire twister before we arrive at the main event – a big, bad behemoth of a tornado that destroys everything in its path.
Once the storms gain momentum, so does the movie, and from there it moves at a brisk pace. There are a few lulls in the action, giving the characters time to apologize for their faults or argue about ethics, but overall the film builds to a nice intensity. And to at least some extent the camera-eye views help to take us right into the action. Nothing groundbreaking, but the straightforward quality of the film results in a certain immediacy that helps the suspense.
Set-up, characters and dialogue are, as mentioned above, all very basic, and some of it a bit clumsy and labored. The cast do a decent job but this is not an actor’s movie. The stars here are the visual and sound effects.
Into the Storm scores an extra point for featuring one particularly good onscreen death involving the above mentioned fire twister, and there’s a pretty cool scene where we actually get to follow one unfortunate character all the way to the top of a tornado. As for comic relief, the two Jackass wannabees Donk (sic!) and Reevis are so relentlessly stupid that it’s kind of impossible to really dislike them (think Dumb & Dumber stupid).
Is it a great film? No, but all in all it is a very entertaining disaster movie, once it gets past the first act. If you’re a genre fan, I wholly recommend it.